When I was around 12 years old, I found out how powerful gasoline is. The smell is unmistakable and if you have ever pumped gas, spilled a little on your hand and went into your car, you know what I’m talking about. At 12 years old I was intrigued by the smell of gasoline and wondered what would happen if I poured some on the garage floor and then threw a match on it. The house did not burn down, luckily, but the flames almost went to the top of the garage, which had no drywall ceiling, only exposed trusses. It could have been a disaster, it turns out the only thing that ended up burning for a long time was my rear end after my father got through with me. To be honest, I was so scared after seeing how high the flame got, that although my fathers punishment hurt, it was not as bad as my new fear of the power of gasoline. Even more than my affinity, or curiosity for gasoline was my love of water. You couldn’t get me out of the pool. I loved swimming, going to lakes and rivers, being on boats, really anything that had to do with water I loved. Even today as I walk along the ocean, I am mesmerized by the water. As we know with hurricanes and rain storms, water too is a powerful force in the universe. I was listening to a speaker the other day who said that as leaders we walk around with buckets of both gasoline and water, both powerful forces in our workplace. How we use them to create a culture will literally draw the line between success and failure.
To some of you what you are about to read you will think is not relevant, too emotional based, and not appropriate for the workplace and some of you will relate and appreciate. Regardless of whether you believe this is true or not, as a leader in the workplace you have the capability to either pour gasoline on fears and water on dreams or gasoline on dreams and water on fears. That seems a bit absurd if you ask me. No one has the ability to smash my dreams or increase my fear. There is a fundamental question that most of us ask ourselves, a question that leaves us on the edge of dreams and fears. Do I have what it takes? For me, this is a critical question and the closer people are to me the more they impact the answer. No one can answer this questions for you however, it is something you deal with your whole life. My wife is my biggest cheerleader and tells me all the time that I have the right stuff to make it. Next in line to her is my immediate supervisor. With the power of a few words, he can influence how I think about that question. Here is where the buckets of gasoline and water come in. When someone comes into my office with uncertainty about something, I am very aware of the question that resonates in the subconscious of whether or not they have what it takes, and I try to encourage them before they leave. That word encourage literally means to put courage into someone. When they leave my office, they should feel more courageous than when they walked in. This is good use of the water, douse their uncertainty. If someone comes in with an idea of something they would like to try, my goal is to empower them to do it. To empower means to make them powerful. They should leave my office feeling like they can take on the world. This is good use of gasoline, douse their fire of creativity and innovation.
Using water and gasoline appropriately is learned over time, usually through using them incorrectly. Some of the time, you may not even know you are using them incorrectly. A few years ago a staff member asked to talk to me and he told me that he thought he was ready for management. His immediate supervisor and I both thought he was wrong and the biggest reason was because he didn’t know how to say no. Being mission driven means you have to say no to some things in order not to lose focus, he couldn’t do that yet. He left the office and I felt like the bucket of water had just been poured all over his dream, putting it out. It was, he left the organization and became a manager doing something completely different. Was he ready? No and I knew it, but instead of pouring water on his dream and forcing him out the door, his supervisory and I could have encouraged him much better. He used his let down appropriately and it propelled his career, but it caused collateral damage in the department as yet another was passed up for promotion and the sentiment was felt by a few on the team who had their eye on a promotion.
Carrying around buckets of water and gasoline is a difficult job, not meant for the feint hearted. Individuals careers are in their own hands. We make decisions every day that put our career in our own control. As leaders, we do however have an influence over others career. We can either encourage and empower and let them know that they have what it takes to reach their dream, or we can leave them wondering if they have what it takes. Regardless of whether or not they seem ready at the time, sometimes, you have to speak to the potential in them and pour gasoline on a small flame that they may not even see yet. Gasoline and a small flame can either burn the house down, or start a fire in someone and lead them to their destiny.